The language of movement: 3 practitioners examine the state of contemporary dance in the Mideast

The language of movement: 3 practitioners examine the state of contemporary dance in the Mideast
Sarah Brahim is a performer and choreographer. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 September 2021

The language of movement: 3 practitioners examine the state of contemporary dance in the Mideast

The language of movement: 3 practitioners examine the state of contemporary dance in the Mideast

LONDON: A little over a year ago, Mira Majzoub was approached by the videographer Mansour Rachid. He had an idea. He wanted to produce a film of her dancing to a particular piece of music in a certain location. That location would be the Old Silk Factory in Damour, Lebanon. The music would be Ibrahim Maalouf’s “Overture II — Alf Leila Wa Leila.”

“We were discussing whether it would be choreographed or whether it would be improvised and I decided to do it as an improv because it was an evolving process, so I wanted it to be very genuine when we were there,” explains Majzoub. “We actually took no more than two or three shots of the whole thing, just for it to be genuine and for me to portray where I was at at that moment in time. To make it sincere.”

The end result was a mesmerizing translation of the music’s complex cultural identity. Majzoub, who recently enrolled at ACTS/Ecole de danse contemporaine de Paris and is a relatively new member of Beirut Contemporary Ballet, has an intense yet joyful fluidity to her movement. Maybe that’s why the performance helped to open a rare public window into the world of contemporary dance — a world that is as much misunderstood as it is underappreciated. 

Mira Majzoub has an intense yet joyful fluidity to her movement. (Supplied)

For Majzoub, contemporary dance, with its focus on improvisation and versatility, has allowed her to dig deeper into herself, to uncover meaning, and to cope with extreme circumstances. “Sometimes I spend more than an hour just repeating the same move or repeating the same concept again and again because I discover more feelings, I discover how my body moves in a certain way, and this process is not just happiness, it’s not just joy; it kind of takes me from one place to another,” she says. “It’s like taking another step, digging inside how my body and how my brain connect with each other to create.”

Dance has also helped her adapt to the turmoil that has engulfed Lebanon. The day after the explosion at Beirut Port last year, she went to her room, closed the door, and began to move her arms up and down in a certain way. There was no music, just this articulated movement and an irregular form of breathing. 

“I realized something,” she says. “That even in good times or bad times, even after an explosion or at a wedding, I’d be moving. This is the first thing I would go to. The first thing my body would go to. For the first time my mind was at ease when I did that small thing in my room. Dance is a tool for me to adapt, dance is a tool for me to be mentally stable, and I’m glad I have learned how to navigate this. How to use this thing that I have.”

Hamza Damrais is originally a breakdancer. (Supplied)

The same is almost certainly true for the movement artist, performer and choreographer Sarah Brahim, whose work covers themes including loss, identity, race and migration. Identity is a big one, largely because of her own complex background — a combination of US and Saudi cultures. 

“From a young age I was always confronted with questions of misunderstanding — ‘Where are you from?’ being the most standard and then the questions moving on from there,” she says. “It came from both cultures I belong to. So many people have transcultural experiences and stories. So to make work about this feels like I’m able to create a space where those of us who feel like we don’t belong or have a place that is ‘home’ can exist and are welcome.”

For Brahim, bringing a project to life begins with a personal sense of urgency — a feeling or an idea that “overwhelms my mind and body.” 



A post shared by sarah brahim (@sahrab)

“It starts with a core, always something I think feels important, unseen, and should be amplified,” she explains. Some projects, such as “Roofless,” were developed from ongoing research into the relationship between the human body and architecture. Others, such as “Body Land/Back to Dust,” involved nine months of moving, researching and writing about how her body held pain and grief. The latter, produced during a residency at Performance Works NorthWest, dealt specifically with the hands and became the seed of her current work.

“I use structured improvisation constantly as a tool because it allows me to develop grounded material, but also to surprise myself and experiment at the same time,” says Brahim, who studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and graduated from London Contemporary Dance School in 2016. “I use this approach with the many mediums I work with because I care about capturing a specific feeling or experience and having it resonate in others. Being open to the medium that works to communicate and being open enough to listen deeply to where things are coming from keeps me grounded in what I do, no matter the subject or presentation.”

Brahim, who is currently working on a number of projects, including a performance commission and a few exhibitions, is keen to combine her textile practice with performance. That will mean creating sculptures and installations that exist on their own but are also integral to experimentation and performance. 



A post shared by sarah brahim (@sahrab)

The reasons why she dances, however, have been redefined since the beginning of the pandemic. Like many others, she found it important to look at everything in her life and to reassess what was truly important. “Art and movement saved me and so many others throughout this difficult time and it was not just the practices or media,” she says. “I looked around at the communities in my life and the beautiful ways they were coming together and offering time, conversations, free classes, holding space, and I realized how incredible the people in my life were, all of which had blossomed from pursuing a career in creative work. 

“For me, it is about the people, but also what we are doing is questioning and pushing our experiences further with each project and I find this fascinating. There is not anything else I would rather be doing. When I watch a great performance, hear or see something that resonates with me, that feeling of light and interconnection is irreplaceable.”

This is equally true for Hamza Damra, who grew up in Balata on the outskirts of Nablus. Originally a breakdancer, for him dance was, and still is, a way to react to the feelings generated by the environment he grew up in. “Dance taught me the meaning of those feelings,” he says simply.



A post shared by Hamza (@hamza_damra)

Last year he received funding from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) for “Me and I,” a project centered on his experience of living between Palestine and France. Still a work in progress, he has chosen angry, sharp movements to represent his time in France (in contrast to the peace and freedom he experiences there), and more fluid movements for Palestine, “despite the harsh situation, the unstable emotions, the uncertainty.”

“I have created a language of movement that has been extracted from my own circumstances,” he explains. “Circumstances that I have been through and I’m still going through.”



A post shared by Mira (@miramajzoub)

Despite its vitality and relevance — and the myriad benefits experienced by its practitioners — contemporary dance remains misunderstood in the region, sometimes deeply so. The likes of AFAC and Sharjah Art Foundation may support performance, but it is often regarded as inaccessible or even elitist. And that perception is unlikely to change without greater emphasis being placed upon its cultural value. 

“I think contemporary performance as a whole can be undervalued all over the world,” says Brahim. “Therefore also less engaged, documented, and publicized. Performance is quite difficult to commodify or (monetize) compared to other creative fields, which is exactly what makes it special, alive, temporal, but also probably why there is less interest in it. My work specifically has found homes inside industries like music, design, film, and contemporary art. Moving forward, hopefully there is space for all forms of expression to be less rigid in definition and more integrated in form.”

Review: ‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ takes on a gargantuan challenge

‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
Updated 39 sec ago

Review: ‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ takes on a gargantuan challenge

‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)

LONDON: For the most part, British director Orlando von Einsiedel’s new Netflix documentary, “Convergence: Courage in a Crisis,” manages to strike a balance between poignant and harrowing without straying too far into self-indulgence. But only for the most part. The filmmaker, the creative voice behind the excellent “White Helmets” and “Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul,” has created a new documentary that is equal parts loving tribute and critical dissection, as he weaves together a series of different story threads, all following those impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)


The movie’s subjects are varied and diverse — from a first responder in the Brazilian favelas to a couple under lockdown in Tehran. An expectant mother and father in India tell their story, while a Syrian filmmaker volunteering at a hospital in London is also highlighted, alongside a young driver transporting staff and drugs in Wuhan and a doctor and activist working in Miami. Each story has something unique about it. Von Einsiedel’s greatest creative stroke in this movie is giving his subjects the room to tell their own stories, because each is heartbreaking and life-affirming in its own way.

Where the movie gets harder to follow is when the director tries to do too much in too short a time. In less than two hours, we get commentary on governmental mismanagement, the Black Lives Matter movement, institutional racism, nationwide inequality, and a handful of other topics made all the more pressing during the pandemic. There are also tantalizing glimpses inside the World Health Organization, and the Oxford University vaccine development program. But we must make do with just a few minutes of each, before we are whisked off to the next story. There is deep, resonant and powerful storytelling running throughout “Convergence” — if only we were given a little more time to take it all in.

Actress Salma Hayek shows off Elie Saab suit in Los Angeles

The actress showed off a leopard-print suit by Elie Saab in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)
The actress showed off a leopard-print suit by Elie Saab in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)
Updated 6 min 16 sec ago

Actress Salma Hayek shows off Elie Saab suit in Los Angeles

The actress showed off a leopard-print suit by Elie Saab in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: US-Mexican actress Salma Hayek made an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in Los Angeles this weekend wearing a feisty leopard-print suit by Lebanese designer Elie Saab.

The actress, who is of Spanish and Lebanese descent, appeared on the TV show alongside fellow actor Kumail Nanjiani to talk about their latest film, Marvel’s “Eternals.”

For the occasion, she looked glamorous in a coordinating set by Saab, hailing from the designer’s pre-Fall 2021 collection.

The wide-legged animal-print pants featured a single black stripe on each leg, while the fitted blazer boasted black lapels and was worn over a sheer black top with a high collar.

(Getty Images)

The film’s star-studded cast includes Hayek, Nanjiani, Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden and teen Syrian refugee-turned-actor Zain Al-Rafeea, among others.

Directed by Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao, the plot centers on an immortal alien race with superhuman powers who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years. The film is set to be released in theaters in November.

While chatting with show host Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday, Hayek revealed why her co-star Jolie smashed her face into a birthday cake in a video that went viral online in September.

When the show host asked about her 55th birthday celebration last month, Hayek said: “There was no birthday party. All of those people were crashers. I said, ‘I don’t want a birthday party this year.’ I had to work all day. Twenty-five people, that I told them there is no birthday party, showed up anyway,” she said, referring to the party documented in her September Instagram post. 

The actress then explained that it’s a Mexican birthday tradition to push a person’s face into their cake — and Jolie was tasked with the job.

In the video, a group of friends are gathered around the actress chanting, “Mordida!” as Jolie pushes Hayek’s face into her birthday cake.

“After you blow the candles, you have to mordida,” Hayek explained to Kimmel. “It means a bite. You have to bite the cake with your mouth, without your hands holding or anything. Then, there’s always one that comes and hits you and sticks your face inside the cake.

“We were starting, ‘Mordida!’ She’s like, ‘What’s happening?’” Hayek said of Jolie’s apparent confusion over the tradition, before she got in on the fun and smashed Hayek's face into the coconut cake.

World’s largest floating nightclub set to open on Dubai’s historic QE2 cruise liner

World’s largest floating nightclub set to open on Dubai’s historic QE2 cruise liner
Updated 3 min 31 sec ago

World’s largest floating nightclub set to open on Dubai’s historic QE2 cruise liner

World’s largest floating nightclub set to open on Dubai’s historic QE2 cruise liner
  • Float Dubai, billed as ‘the world’s largest floating nightclub,’ still faces COVID-19 restrictions
  • Ship, launched by namesake Queen Elizabeth II in 1967, has sailed over 6m nautical miles

LONDON: A new luxury nightclub is opening onboard the retired Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner in Dubai.

Float Dubai, billed as the “world’s largest floating nightclub,” is on the top deck of the ship, which is owned by the emirate’s royal family. 

The venue, which can accommodate 1,000 people, hosted an opening party on Thursday ahead of its first weekend.

Celebrities including American actress Lindsay Lohan, rapper DaBaby and British boxer Amir Khan are expected to appear aboard the ship this weekend, which once hosted the likes of Hollywood stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

But due to the coronavirus pandemic, partying will be limited, with tables needing to be booked in advance, security guards preventing people from standing up and dancing, and plainclothes police officers patroling the venue to prevent infringements. 

Dubai extended the strictest anti-COVID-19 measures in the UAE, with seating rules in many hospitality venues only relaxed in August this year.

Many are now allowed to stay open until 3 a.m., but social distancing measures remain in place.

Rob Smith, a British expat who attended Float Dubai’s opening night, told The Times: “It feels so good to see things opening back up again. It feels like things are getting back to normal.”

The QE2 was bought by Dubai government entity DP World, controlled by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, in 2008 for around $88 million.

Parts of the vessel were converted into a hotel in 2018, with plans to base it off the Palm Jumeirah island resort.

The club’s opening was delayed by the onset of the pandemic, with the rooms left vacant and the QE2 subsequently relocated to Rashid Port, where its monthly upkeep is estimated at around £650,000 ($893,424).

British expat Lara Rogers added: “The ship has an eerie vibe to it. It’s a shame to see it like this. It needs some TLC (tender loving care) to bring it back to life because it has so much history here within these walls. Maybe the club can help inject some excitement for it again.”

The QE2 was originally launched in 1967 by Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland. At 963 feet, it is estimated to have carried over 2.5 million passengers over its lifetime, traveled around 6 million nautical miles, circumnavigated the globe 25 times, and even served as a British troop ship during the Falklands War in 1982.

Stars shine on the ‘Casablanca Beats’ red carpet at El Gouna Film Festival

Tunisian actress Dorra Zarrouk arrives for the screening of ‘Casablanca Beats’ at the Festival Plaza, on 2nd day at 5th edition of El Gouna Film Festival, in El Gouna, Egypt, on October 15, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 11 min 39 sec ago

Stars shine on the ‘Casablanca Beats’ red carpet at El Gouna Film Festival

Tunisian actress Dorra Zarrouk arrives for the screening of ‘Casablanca Beats’ at the Festival Plaza, on 2nd day at 5th edition of El Gouna Film Festival, in El Gouna, Egypt, on October 15, 2021. (AFP)

EL GOUNA: Egypt’s El-Gouna Film Festival screened its first movie on Friday — the Moroccan film “Casablanca Beats.” 

Stars, including Tunisian actress Dorra Zarrouk and Egyptian actress Amina Khalil, arrived on the red carpet in glamorous gowns. 

Zarrouk opted for a voluminous grey gown by Dubai-based fashion house Maison Yeya. She accessorized her look with jewelry from Yessayan Jewelry, founded in Lebanon. 

Meanwhile, Khalil chose an asymmetric golden dress designed by Egyptian couturier Sara Onsi. She completed her red carpet attire with a clutch from the Egyptian brand, previously championed by Kylie Jenner, Okhtein. 

Amina Khalil. (AFP)

Egyptian actress Youssra wore a hot red satin gown from Egyptian fashion house Nazazy Couture. Her chunky gold earrings and bracelet were custom made by Egyptian label Dima Jewelry. 

Youssra. (AFP)

Lebanese influencer and entrepreneur Karen Wazen was among the guests who attended the event. This is Wazen’s first time attending the festival. 

In an interview with Arab News after the event, she said: “I was so impressed, from the moment I walked in everything was extremely organized. It was such a beautiful venue. We’ve been to a lot of film festivals, a lot of red carpet events, and I don’t think we’ve seen something on this level.

“So, I am super proud to see something like this coming out of the Arab region. I can’t wait to be there again hopefully next year,” she added. 

The eyewear designer wore a one-shouldered golden gown by Lebanese couturier Nicolas Jebran.  

Egyptian actors Jamila Awad, Rogena, Ola Roshdy, Ahmed Dawood and veteran actress Laila Eloui were among other celebrities who posed for pictures before the screening.

“Casablanca Beats,” which was in competition for the prized Palme d’Or, had its world premiere in the official competition of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

Directed by renowned French-Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch, the film tells the story of a former rapper, Anas, who takes a job at a cultural center in a working-class neighborhood in Casablanca.

Encouraged by their new teacher, his students try to free themselves from the weight of restrictive traditions in order to live out their passions and express themselves through hip-hop. 

The director and actors were not able to attend the screening of the film in El Gouna, said the executive producer who attended the red carpet.   

It is competing for the feature narrative award at El Gouna Film Festival.

Silence speaks volumes as Algerian artists explore cultural heritage

Silence speaks volumes as Algerian artists explore cultural heritage
Updated 16 October 2021

Silence speaks volumes as Algerian artists explore cultural heritage

Silence speaks volumes as Algerian artists explore cultural heritage
  • Paris exhibition ranges from poignant paintings of migrants to works based on urban archaeology
  • ‘Algeria is a country that is as familiar as it is unknown,’ says curator

PARIS: “Somewhere between silence and words” revives memories of a journey to Algeria made by Florian Gaite, philosopher, art critic and curator of the exhibition taking place until Nov. 28, 2021 at the Maison des Arts Malakoff center in Paris.

The exhibition “seeks to make heard the voices and the silence that characterize Algeria so well,” Gaite told Arab News in France

“It’s a listening ear beyond the Mediterranean. Algeria is a country that is as familiar as it is unknown, and whose complexity — social, political and historical — is equivalent to the cultural diversity expressed there.”

Gaite said that he set up the project before the Hirak movement and widespread protests in Algeria in early 2019.

“That upset my vision of the Algerian scene, a country that I did not know, and about which I had prejudices and preconceived ideas from an exclusively Western reading,” he added.



“When I arrived in Algeria, I realized that the sensitive and sensory experience felt there was made of two extremes. On the one hand, it is an extremely talkative country, where multiple languages are spoken, a sort of linguistic tinkering. The same language is not spoken from one city to the next or between generations.

“The older generation speaks Amazigh, their children speak French and Arabic, and the younger generation is more oriented toward Arabic and English. This stratification of languages ​​seemed crazy to me because in Algeria, there is also a lot of silence. It is a country where people whisper, where there is modesty,” he said.

Gaite said that Algeria is a country “marked by many traumas and by a form of detention” because the same wounds are not discussed between generations.

“There are two pitfalls that I wanted to avoid: The first is placing myself as a Western critic coming to evoke the Algerian artistic scene, which I am not specialized in. The second consisted in choosing artists as simple mediators to bear witness to the Algerian artistic scene. In fact, they know their country better than I do and their testimonies are more accurate and more authentic.”

According to the exhibition’s organizer, colonization, Islamism and state authoritarianism are some of the multiple traumas of contemporary Algerian history.

“These are a series of causes, prohibitions, denials, repressions that hinder speech and often prevent it from being transcribed in the form of a story. The presence of the testimonial and documentary function in contemporary Algerian art thus answers this need to bear witness to the past as well as to the present — colonization, the war of liberation, socialism, black decade, the Bouteflika era, Hirak — and to propose rewritings, to exhume what has been erased or falsified, to give a voice to all that is forgotten,” he said.

“Somewhere between silence and words” brings together artists who were born, live or work in Algeria, including Louisa Babari, Adel Bentounsi, Walid Bouchouchi, Fatima Chafaa, Dalila Dalleas Bouzar, Mounir Gouri, Fatima Idiri, Sabrina Idiri Chemloul, Amina Menia and Sadek Rahim.

These Algerian or Franco-Algerian artists were selected by Gaite, who said that some are still poorly represented in French galleries.

“This exhibition, which includes more women than men, displays works made with various materials such as paper, charcoal or even fabric.”

While in Oran, birthplace of Gaite’s grandmother, the curator met Sabrina Idiri Chemloul, a Franco-Algerian director, who introduced him to her mother, Fatima Idiri.

Born in the Aures, in northeastern Algeria, Idiri lived in Nancy in a family that was part of the resistance networks of the National Liberation Front.

Returning to the country after its independence, she is a self-taught artist — from fashion design to painting on silk, mosaic to Berber embroidery — who is strongly influenced by impressionism and orientalism.

“Hirak’s fervor was a game-changer,” she said.

By choosing figurative drawing as an artistic identity, she strives to preserve the memory of one of the traditions of her native region, the Aures, said Gaite.

“By creating her masterpieces out of coffee grounds and acrylic, the artist pays tribute to free and liberated poets and singers who are the Azriat.”

Idiri studied colonial photography and sought to deconstruct the images in order to rediscover the spontaneity of avant-garde artists who were frowned upon, and even marginalized, during the colonial period.

The exhibition also includes works by Mounir Gouri, winner of the Friends of the IMA (Arab World Institute) Prize.

Based in France, Gouri produces moving paintings of “harraga,” or illegal immigrants, transforming their journey into a performance.

Gaite highlights a painting of a starry sky, painted with charcoal. “The message that the artist wishes to convey is that when the harraga are in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in the dark night, the stars are their only source of light.”

Works by visual artist Amina Menia, who lives and works in Algeria, are also on display. Her art takes the form of an urban archaeology, focusing on places and architectural language.

Menia’s works have been shown in numerous museums, art centers and galleries, including the Pompidou Center in Paris, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the Museum of African Design in Johannesburg, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseille and the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin.

Works by Sadek Rahim, a multidisciplinary artist who has lived in Syria and Jordan, and studied at the Beirut School of Fine Arts, are also being shown.

“Somewhere between silence and words” runs until Nov. 28, 2021 at the Maison des arts of Malakoff, in the Hauts-de-Seine, in Paris.

This story was originally published in French on Arab News en Français